“I have heard the slander of many. Fear was on every side.”
David, in Psalms 31:13a
In his poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T. S. Eliot included a line that I have never been able to forget since the first time I read it in high school. That line is this: “When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, . . .” The imagery of that phrase is brilliant; it describes the utter helplessness felt by someone stuck in a situation beyond his control. The man in Eliot’s poem felt as helpless as an insect caught by an insect collector and pinned to a specimen board along with other insects. The only remaining reason for that poor creature to exist, then, is to be a gazingstock for the curious, an object to be talked about the way visitors to an art museum gaze at artwork and then discuss it among themselves. “Pinned and wriggling on the wall.” Not quite dead yet, but immobilized and unable to escape the fatal pin through the mid-section.
The invisible pin that immobilizes and kills people is talk, and the collector that pins righteous people with an evil reputation is Satan. Once pinned, a person may wriggle in protest for a short while, as insects may do when they are pinned to the specimen board; however, there is no escape, and soon the pinned individual becomes to everyone only what he is labeled as, and nothing more. In the end, he becomes no more than a thing to be looked at and commented upon, and eventually he decays in his appointed spot, along with the other lifeless specimens on the wall.
My father warned us that slander is murder. He made that statement because he understood that if you ruin a person’s reputation, you kill his influence, and if you kill his influence, he is, in effect, dead to everyone around him. My father didn't know T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, but he was an astute observer of life, and he saw how often and how easily an envious soul can leave others, even innocent people, “pinned and wriggling on the wall”. Their pointed words pin souls on the wall of people’s minds, and then leave them there to wriggle a bit before the struggle exhausts them, and they die.
Reputation can be a deadly thing. If someone you know dies the slow, agonizing death of a ruined reputation, be very sure that you are not the one who pinned him with it. God has promised that He will destroy whoever slanders another (Ps. 101:5), and for that reason, we know that Solomon was wise to say that whoever dares to be a slanderer is a fool (Prov. 10:18).